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Work-life balance lesson learned from son's comment
A comment my son made on a recent hectic Saturday morning hit hard, and it's encouraged me to try to be a more engaged parent. If I succeed, it should make the "life" part of my work-life balance equation better for everyone. - photo by Greg Kratz
It was another hectic Saturday morning.

My wife was with our second-oldest daughter, who was participating in the state history fair competition. Her performance was scheduled for 10 a.m., and I wanted to get there to see her, too. But I knew it was going to require some logistical trickery if I wanted to make it on time.

That's because my oldest daughter was already at her high school, running through a practice exam to help her prepare for one of the Advanced Placement tests she will take next month. And my youngest daughter needed to get to softball practice, which also started at 10 a.m. in an entirely different part of the valley.

My 9-year-old son was the only person who didn't have anywhere he really needed to be. "Lucky kid," I thought, as I tried to sort through my options.

I finally decided I could make it to the history fair if I picked up my oldest by about 9:20 a.m., then took her and the two younger kids to the park early, where they could all hang out before and during softball practice. That would free me to dash to the competition and probably make it just in the nick of time.

Once I had my plan in place, I was focused on executing it. And when I'm focused, I'm usually not much fun.

My son wasn't too happy when I woke him up and told him he needed to quickly get dressed. In fact, I sensed some whining was about to begin, so I decided to head it off by telling him I didn't want to hear it.

As I reflect on the incident, I wasn't exactly gentle in my tone. Probably more like exasperated and impatient. But I was in a hurry, thinking to myself, "I just don't have time to deal with this today!"

I rushed out the door to pick up my oldest from the school. When we returned home, I found that the younger children were ready to go, but my son had clearly been crying. I asked him why he was upset, but he never answers at such times.

My youngest daughter was happy to respond for him, which is also fairly common.

"He says I was being mean to him," she said.

"Were you being mean to him?" I asked, thinking of the dozens of times we've had this exact conversation.

"No," she replied, with more than a bit of irritation. "I just told him he needed to hurry and get ready, and he said, 'You're being like Dad.' I told him that was insulting to you, and then he was sad."


I tried to recover quickly from this statement and keep us going. After all, I still needed to get to that history fair performance.

Fortunately, I made it on time, and the rest of the morning's appointments worked out OK. But I couldn't stop thinking of what my son had said.

I had a few minutes alone with him in the car later in the day, and it was clear that he wasn't still pondering the morning's struggle. We were joking around as usual, with him talking a mile-a-minute in his excited, energetic way.

When I talked to my wife about it, she suggested that I should forget the incident, too. And I know she's probably right. (It's sometimes annoying, but she usually is correct when it comes to such things.)

But instead of completely letting this go, I've decided to take a lesson from it.

You see, in our family, I am definitely not the "fun" parent.

By saying that, I don't meant to imply that I think I'm a horrible father. I take the responsibilities of parenthood seriously, and I believe I generally succeed in being an important and mostly positive part of my children's lives.

I'm also not saying that my wife doesn't participate in discipline. She lays down the law as only a mother can, when necessary, and she makes sure the children stay on task when work needs to get done.

However, she is better than I am at knowing how to communicate with our children to keep them moving forward. She understands when to be stern and when to be playful. She knows how to motivate them, even when they're in foul moods. And she knows when it's time to take a break from work and have some fun.

I need to do a better job of following that example. After all, I'm not trying to build better work-life balance just so I can be around the house for more hours each day. Our houseplants are there 24/7, but that doesn't make them good parents.

What I need to do is work harder at becoming a better parent when I am at home. I need to listen more carefully to what my children are saying, not only with words, but also with their actions and moods. I need to build better relationships with them, so we can communicate more effectively.

I need to show them that I love them, so they'll remember that even when they're angry with me for making sure they're doing their homework or forcing them to wake up and get dressed when they want to stay in bed.

If I show that love and concern to them, hopefully they'll show the same to me when I'm impatient or exhausted or upset. That should make the "life" part of my balanced equation more positive for everyone.
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